Millions of people, predominantly women, suffer from dry eye syndrome, a painful and debilitating eye disease. The condition causes symptoms such as pain, irritation, dryness, and/or a sandy or gritty sensation. If untreated, severe dry eye syndrome can eventually lead to scarring or ulceration of the cornea, and loss of vision. In the first study of its kind to examine modifiable risk factors, researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Schepens Eye Research Institute found that the amount, type and ratio of essential fatty acids in the diet may play a key role in dry eye prevention in women.
“We found that a high intake of omega-3 fatty acids, often referred to as a ‘good’ fat, commonly found in fish and walnuts, is associated with a protective effect,” said lead author Biljana Miljanovic, MD. “Conversely, a higher ratio of omega-6, a fat found in many cooking and salad oils and animal meats, compared to omega-3 in the diet, may increase the risk of dry eye syndrome.”
The researchers reported the following specific findings:
1. Women with the highest levels of omega-3 in their diets reduced their risk of dry eye syndrome by 20% compared to women with the lowest levels of this fat in their diet.
2. A dietary ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 greater than 15:1 was associated with a 2.5-fold increased risk of dry eye syndrome in women. Currently, the average American diet consists of a similarly high ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids.
3. Tuna consumption reduced the risk of dry eye syndrome. Women who reported eating at least five servings of tuna per week had a 68% reduced risk of dry eye syndrome compared to women who consumed one serving per week.
4. Other fish types that have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids did not appear to protect against dry eye syndrome.
Schepens Eye Research Institute, Oct 19, 2005